This is a warning before reading. This story is based around the consequences of dealing with an alcoholic parent, both then and once they are dry. As usual, it is not soft and fluffy. If the subject may upset you, please back away now.
Chapter 1: No warmth, no cheerfulness
"Kate. Hmmm. Kate."
"Shut up, Castle." It's a bad day. It's the middle of November and it's pouring – well, sleeting, which is worse, and it's far too early to be this cold – and there's nothing but paperwork on her desk and she has nothing interesting to do today at all. And it's her birthday, and she has no plans.
"Kate," he muses. What the hell this time? Surely Montgomery never meant her to have to put up with this jackass when there isn't even a corpse? One case – one lousy case – that this smartass turned up on, and suddenly he claims inspiration – yeah, right – and talks Montgomery into letting him hang around and disrupt them. He's been here ever since. She'd never had Montgomery down as a fan of murder mysteries. And she'd know. Oh yes. She's read everything from Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie to Patterson and Baldacci. And Richard Castle. Though she doesn't admit to that last. He might deduce it, but she doesn't have to add to his smugness. Thinks he's God's gift to the reading public, as well as to women. Not to Gillette, though. Does he really think that stubbled look is sexy? Not in her house. Maybe Espo can teach him to handle a razor. (But it would feel so good against you, a little voice whispers.)
"Shut up. Some of us are working." Her irritation boils over. "Why are you here anyway? There's no body. Nothing for you to consult on."
"You're so cute when you're irritated," Castle oozes, smirking. Beckett emits a formlessly enraged growl and considers very seriously the advantages of re-arranging his teeth with the stapler. If nothing else, it would take him out the way while a dentist put his flashing, oh-so-practised, smile back together. And he wouldn't be able to talk, which would be a very, very nice change.
"Why are you here?" she snaps.
"I need a name."
"You've got a name. You splash your name around like beer at a frat party. But if you don't like being known as Rick Castle we can find plenty names for you." She smiles with no humour at all. "Starting with smartass." Castle winces.
"Beckett, Beckett. If you're going to find a nickname for me at least make it realistic." His stubbly smirk widens. "Sex god will do." He wiggles his eyebrows lasciviously. "I could show you, Beckett."
She looks him straight in the eye with her already-trademarked what the hell Castle glare. "Not likely. Now. Why are you here?" Getting in my way. Getting in my brain.
"I told you. I need a name." Just before she brains him with the stapler he carries on. "For my character."
"And this has what to do with being here?"
"You're my inspiration. My muse." His eyes crinkle delightfully – no! She is not getting suckered into that discussion by a pair of big blue eyes. "So when I got bored I decided to come by and get some." Her mouth opens. "Inspiration, of course. I couldn't think of a name for my character. What else could I possibly mean?" His eyebrows wiggle some more. She glares even more fearsomely. It's stopping her staring at his mouth.
"Kate," he says for yet another time. Yes, that's her name. But no-one in the precinct would want or dare to use it and she's not breaking that rule for a sometime consultant who's already offered to debrief her. "Short for Katherine, I presume?" She nods once, sharply. She doesn't see where this is going yet, but she's perfectly certain she won't like it. Unfortunately she doesn't see how to stop it, either. Well, apart from stopping his mouth. With a stapler. Emphatically not otherwise. Especially emphatically not with her own mouth.
"Katherine." His voice lingers over it, as if he's tasting it on his tongue, swirling it round his mouth like a fine wine. "Kath-er-ine. It means pure."
"Don't start" – Too late. Dammit!
"I like pure," he says smoothly. "Purity is so attractive." Beckett looks disgusted. "Oh – not like that. That's just creepy."
"Especially at nearly forty," Beckett snips. An instant later it's clear that saying that was a mistake.
"You know my age? That's so sweet. I knew you liked me better than you were letting on." She splutters angrily. "Kath-er-ine." This time it sounds as if he's licking his lips on the th. Her eyes drop to his lips to make sure he isn't. Said lips quirk up attractively – no. Not going there. And he can just stop saying her name like that, too. Stop his tongue slithering, slipping and sliding over it. She absolutely will not be seduced into liking him because of the way he says her name.
"That won't do." What? What's wrong with her name? She bristles. "Too formal. She's a cop. Feisty. Streetwise. Carries a gun. Katherine sounds like a saint, or a queen. It doesn't fit the character." She bristles further. "I need a short form." Suddenly Beckett sees where this is going. Oh God. He's going to start on nicknames and pretend it's about the character. Because he cannot possibly call his character her name. Oh no. And if she stands up he'll either follow her or shout. Oh God. She is dead. Deader than her last corpse, and if the boys hear him she'll wish she were.
"There's Kate, of course." He catches her glare and leaves that one. "Or Katie. But that's a bit… childish for a competent professional adult." He looks carefully at her. There's – something – there. A flash of embarrassment, but under it there's something else. Hmm. Clearly her parents call her Katie, and no doubt still some hugely childish pet name too, just like he calls Alexis Pumpkin or baby bird. Let's push a little, because she's very nearly blushing and it's cute. And unbearably sexy, and he's wondered what she might feel like in his arms from the moment she arrested him. A plan to take her out for a drink (if he's really lucky, dinner too) drops wholesale into his head.
She's not blushing at all. Just because her dad still calls her Katie is no reason to blush. It could be worse. One of her friends was known as Tick all the way through high school because her mother was overheard referring to her as Tickety-boo. Really, what was that all about?
"Though I can see my main male character calling her Katie. Kate-eee, in fact." He grins wickedly. "Depending, of course, on what he – or she – is doing at the time." The expression on his face makes it perfectly clear what he's thinking that his characters might be doing. At least, she hopes he's thinking about the characters. The way he's suddenly looking her over – eyeing you up, Kate – leaves her in some doubt about that. That look shouldn't be causing warmth to pool in her stomach.
She focuses fixedly on her screen, pretending to concentrate on the paperwork. Her eyes drop to the time in its corner. It's – oh thank God for that. It's quitting time. She starts to pack up. She'll go home and investigate a nice takeout. Seeing as it's her birthday and all.
"You're not leaving, are you? We're having such a nice discussion."
"This is not a discussion. It's a monologue." He pouts. Which she does not find at all attractive. He's not five. And she is absolutely not looking at those full lips.
"If you would contribute, then it would be a dialogue. It's only a monologue because you won't talk to me. That's very unkind, Beckett." He widens his eyes and manages to look pathetically puppyish. It's quite ridiculously adorably attractive. She won't be attracted. Nor will she adore it. She will not. Just as well he's stopped it. Now he's smiling again. Unfortunately he's smiling in a way that indicates that he's had an idea. He clearly thinks it's a good idea. On principle, that means it's a bad idea. In fact, his smile is one she's seen on innumerable suspects who have tried to soft-soap her into releasing them. He thinks he's got a winning suggestion. Well, that's not likely. She hasn't been soft-soaped in years, and she's not letting it start again now. And she will certainly not think about any of the more physical ways that he could use soft soap on her. Not out of her shower, or, preferably, bath, anyway.
"Come on." What? "We need to finish this discussion." What on earth – "Unless you'd prefer to continue it tomorrow." Yes. Tomorrow. When with any luck a body will drop and this discussion can be permanently parked. In Nevada. Preferably with Castle also in Nevada. Deep in the desert. The extremely dry desert. This is not a discussion she wants to have. She's just about to nod enthusiastically when he carries on.
"Ryan and Esposito could contribute too. I'm sure they'll have lots of ideas." She can't keep the look of absolute horror off her face. She has the same sinking feeling of Titanic-proportion disaster approaching that she acquired the moment Montgomery told her that she'd got a fan. "Or." Or? There's an alternative? That's got to be better than years of ragging from the boys. "Or you could let me buy you a drink and we can have a nice chat."
This is not attractive either. Devil, meet deep blue sea. Rock, similarly, meet hard place. It occurs to her that Rick pestilent playboy Castle has a brain. In fact, he's far too clever for his own good. He's sandbagged her. No-one's done that in years. She winces, rather too obviously.
"If you don't want to be seen in public with me we can always go to your place."
"No!" She doesn't have to think about that answer. Absolutely not. She is not having him cluttering up her apartment and poking into her possessions. (or poking into you, says her unhelpful little voice. It takes some effort not to blush.)
"Okay then," Castle says amiably. "There's a quiet bar not too far away." Quiet? Castle? Quiet? Well, at least it means she isn't likely to figure on page six tomorrow.
The bar is very quiet. Deserted, in fact. This is almost as bad as going to her apartment. In fact it's worse, because at least in her apartment she's paid the electricity bill and can guarantee that there is light. This bar seems to have forgotten that. She did not sign up for low lighting and cramped booths. She moves as far away from Castle as she can manage without actually falling off the seat. He notices. Amazingly, he doesn't comment. Still, the crinkling round his eyes is very informative. Infuriatingly so.
"What would you like to drink, Beckett?" She considers briefly. Sharing wine is far too friendly. Beer – that's a cop thing, and to tell the truth she isn't that fond of beer. She's never liked gin. Scotch – nah. This dive won't have the single malt that she very occasionally likes to drink. Tequila – no. Far too college party. Slammers are for co-eds.
"Vodka tonic, please." Anaesthetic. Amnesia. Of both of which she thinks she will be in considerable need, as if she isn't already. Castle flicks a curious glance at her but declines to comment, possibly recognising her irritation at being finagled into something that she's been avoiding since the day she met him. To wit, anything that might look in any way like a social meeting. She avoids thinking the word date too. It's a very unhelpful word. All sorts of misplaced connotations.
A substantial volume of vodka disappears in one rapid movement. Castle notices that, too, and doesn't comment. But he goes to the bar to replace it and brings another one back. And another one for him, though he's only taken a couple of sips. Looks like he's drinking Scotch. She supposes it's his own liver he'll ruin. But she'd better dial this back.
"So, Beckett. Kath-er-ine." He's licking over her name again. "Not Katie. That's what your parents call you." She says absolutely nothing. Not because she's shocked by the accuracy of his guess. No. That's an easy hit. No. It's his casual, thoughtless assumption that she still has two parents. She buries her nose in her glass and sinks a third of what's left in one go. This time Castle raises an eyebrow slightly.
"You okay, Beckett?" He puts an arm round her shoulder. That was a rather unexpected reaction. This isn't embarrassment. This is pain. It's very like her reaction when he told her his version of her own story. He wants to make it better, and he's generally found that people in pain like comforting hugs. Unfortunately, in this as in so many things, Beckett doesn't behave like most people. Back to banter and salaciousness. But he files this snippet of Beckett with the earlier one; for later assembly into a jigsaw puzzle, instead of a pile of disjointed pieces.
"Get off me." She shrugs violently and the unhelpfully warm and comforting arm leaves. She doesn't need comfort from Castle. He doesn't need to know her story.
"That would have been a much more pleasant phrase if you'd rearranged the words just a little bit." And thankfully the spoilt playboy is back. She can deal with that. It's his occasional flashes of sincerity she can't take.
"No." That was rather blunter than she should have been. If she'd only found some smart, sarcastic remark it would have been more convincing.
"You sure you're okay?" Back to sincerity. Damn.
"I'm fine." He looks sceptical. She is not having this discussion. Not now. Not ever. Fortunately, he finally picks up the subtext and backs off that line of conversation. Unfortunately, he's back to nicknames.
"Kathy. No. Too suburban. She'd be a teacher, with two kids and a white picket fence" –
"Cliché much?" Beckett snips. It would have been a snap but the vodka is softening her edges. Unfortunately, it's also loosening her protection against inadvertent painful comments. It's not – for once – entirely Castle's fault. She hasn't told him anything.
" – and a dog. A spaniel. Though secretly she wants a Malamute." Beckett chokes on an entirely inadvertent giggle. "She's married to another teacher." He digresses. "You ever noticed that, Beckett? How teachers are always married to teachers? Lawyers to lawyers?" He's still talking. She's stopped listening. She's not usually this raw, but twice in two minutes he's hit the sore spot she normally shields. Another slug of her glassful disappears. Anaesthetic and amnesia are definitely needed. Armour would help, too.
"…Beckett?" Huh? "Beckett?" Oh. He obviously wanted a response.
"Sorry. Missed that."
"Who do cops date? Other cops? Feds? Spies?" His eyes are dancing. "Mystery writers?" She doesn't consciously register that last suggestion, caught for the third time on the first few words. She's standing before she's even worked out that her legs are moving.
"Excuse me. I have to go." She's far more than halfway to the door, the second drink untouched on the table, before he's realised she's not visiting the restroom, she's leaving. She needs to get out, now. Three strikes and she's out. She is not going to break down under the influence of too-fast vodka and sincerity in a dark quiet bar. The alcohol hit her brain almost instantly, and getting home before she does something stupid (like telling Castle the truth, or losing her temper with him because he doesn't know the story and just hit all her sore spots, or simply kissing him) would be a good plan. Downing the drink that fast, on the other hand, was not a good plan. She's a long way out of practice – she doesn't practice, for good reason – and she should have known it before she knocked it back like that. Just as well she hadn't had the second one. On this evidence, she'd have had to have been carried home.
Castle had watched Beckett knock back her first vodka like there would be no tomorrow and noted the timing very carefully. First when they got here – and yes, he'd inveigled her here against her wishes but he very badly wants to find out what's behind that odd reaction and he's not going to manage that in the bullpen –then when he'd said her parents called her Katie, and finally when he'd been talking about lawyers marrying lawyers. And then he'd asked her who cops date and she hadn't even heard the last suggestion. Which hadn't, actually, been a joke at all. And now she's left, not, he thinks, coincidentally; hard upon that comment. It had taken him a minute to comprehend that she had gone straight for the exit. He leaves enough on the table to cover their drinks and a tip besides and goes after her at some speed.
When Beckett hits the street it's starting to sleet again and no taxis are in view: an unsuspected disadvantage of dingy bars in dingy streets. She aims for the brighter lights of the nearest main road, knowing that as soon as she reaches it there will be as many taxis as there are cockroaches round a Dumpster. The biting wind sobers her up a great deal faster than she'd have liked. She could have used a lot longer under anaesthetic.
It's her birthday. It's her birthday, she's twenty-nine years old, and she has as much life as the corpses she stands for. She didn't mention the occasion in the precinct, because it's not relevant. She'd have made arrangements with Lanie, if Lanie weren't on the late shift tonight and she weren't on shift tomorrow. Maybe they'll go out Saturday. No boyfriend, no lover, no husband. Not up for a one-night stand, any more. Last serious relationship was with a Fed – total failure. Crush on her training officer before that – didn't even make it to a point where success or failure might have been an option. She hasn't met a likely prospect in months. Even when she had they'd not been… compatible. Compatible with her work schedule, that is. She hadn't even got far enough to find out about other forms of compatible. (Castle's compatible with your work schedule, says the annoying little voice. She considers lobotomy, to remove it, and her memories.)
The vodka's made her maudlin, she realises. Self-pitying, and over-sensitive. She's doing just fine without a boyfriend. Top Detective, here. Top team. Best in the NYPD. Best friend, in Lanie. Nothing to be maudlin about. She puts some swing into her steps and tries to rearrange her thoughts. Her mother may be dead but she's still got a father. A lawyer who married a lawyer, and who calls her Katie. She hunches her shoulders against the sleet, and blinks, mouth twisted. It's her twenty-ninth birthday, and instead of sharing cake and candles and wine and laughter she's walking alone through the bleak November evening, looking for a cab to take her home to her solitary apartment.
She nearly makes it. With twenty yards to go, there's a hand on her shoulder.
Thanks are due to DX2012 and DrDit92 for support and encouragement for this story.
Posting will be daily except for Fridays and Saturdays up till Christmas. There may be a short break at Christmas, and then we will resume. Thank you to everyone who reads and reviews.